Friday, July 17, 2009

Review: Collected Short Stories of William Faulkner

Collected Short Stories of William Faulkner, William Faulkner


Vintage Trade Paper, 1995
912 pages


The score on LibraryThing is 1,124 reviews for Stephenie Meyer's Twilight to 3 reviews for William Faulkner’s Collected Stories. To add insult to injury, the latter hasn’t had a review since 2007. What a shame—a Nobel Prize winner whom hardly anyone reads. And shame on me for not reading him until my 61st year; I too bought into the myths that "He is too hard to read," "I don't understand him," and "He doesn't make any sense" before I ever tried to read one word.

When I expressed a desire to read something by Faulkner but had no idea where to start, a wonderful woman on LibraryThing readily agreed to mentor me through the labyrinth. After five of his lesser (but hardly forgettable) novels, I turned to these short stories.

I admit that he is difficult at times and I don't understand every line he writes, but reading Faulkner is a moving experience for me, both mentally and emotionally. His stories are to be savored like a pot set to "simmer" on the stove—as opposed to Meyer's read-it-and-forget-it microwavable pop.

This collection includes 42 stories spread over 900 pages, many of them forerunners to future novels. Every one of them sucked me in from the first sentence, and I wasn't able to close the book until I had finished the story. Some stories had neatly tied-up endings, but many did not—a frequent Faulkner device that requires the reader to create or imagine the ending. I suspect it is the latter that frustrates people: unwilling to use their imaginations, they ask, “What the hell was that all about?”

Many of these stories take place in fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi. But Faulkner was a master of the war story too, and the effect war has on an individual—both soldier and civilian. I liked these best. My favorite is "Two Soldiers," a poignant tale (and title) of an eight-year-old boy who tries to join the Army and ship out to Pearl Harbor with his beloved older brother. On the flip side is "Victory," a WWI horror story (and title) of a Scotsman who shoots and machine guns his own troops in France—receiving in turn medals for valor because, in war, events happen with lightning speed and few remember exactly what happened.

A complaint I have about the Viking edition is the stories have no dates, so obviously there is no way to tell the order in which Faulkner wrote them.

I recommend this book highly with reservation; if you are brand-new to Faulkner, start with his short novel The Unvanquished. My mentor in northeast Pennsylvania will probably agree.

13 comments:

Wandering Coyote said...

Well, good for you - you're a better, more patient reader than I am. Though I do believe I have read SOME Faulkner in my distant university days, but cannot seem to remember what it was...

Charlie said...

WC: I guess not remembering is better than forgetting altogether.

Michael said...

Even more insult to injury - Meyer # 26 on Forbes 100 Most Powerful Celebrities. Try not to hurl your computer - invective is fine - upon reading the words 'instant classics'.

Charlie said...

MICHAEL: Thank you for that bit of good news on an otherwise quiet Sunday morn. "Instant classics" my ass. I can't hurl my computer, though, because it's a true classic and I can't afford a new one.

kara said...

i hate faulkner. i've never forgiven him for 'go down moses'. but that doesn't make my review of twilight any less poignant. oh wait, i reviewed the movie.

still.

Mary Witzl said...

I have tried to work my way through a Faulkner novel -- I think it was Absolom, Absolom (sp?) -- but I have to admit that I'm with Kara here, partly because I'm a stickler for shorter, punchier, well punctuated sentences. But after reading this review, I'm going to look out for those stories, which sound great. If I like them, you'll have worked a small miracle.

And I'd pick Faulknner over Stephanie Meyers any old day.

Peter S. said...

Hi Charlie! I've always wanted to read Faulkner but I can't get past the long sentences. I guess the logical step would be to sample his short stories. Thanks for your review!

Charlie said...

KARA: A "poignant" review of Twilight, the movie? You've got balls, woman, to tell me I'm funny . . .

MARY: Hell, I'd pick a Harlequin romance or Nora Roberts before I'd read Meyer!

PETER: Like Mary, Faulkner's short stories might work for you.

And you welcome for the review.

Jemima said...

I can't remember whether I have read Faulkner in college or not. I think that I will look up one of his books at the library and give it a try. It is great to find a review of a true classic writer.

Sheila DeChantal said...

Great review and excellent point. How many authors have I avoided that I have heard are a difficult read.....

"Guilty" : (

Charlie said...

JEMIMA: There does seem to be a dearth of "classic" classics on the book blogs, save for Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters. "Contemporary" and "instant" classes seem to rule.

SHEILA: I suspect we've all done it. I stay away from SF for the same reason.

laytonwoman3rd said...

I want to give you a medal. Promoting Faulkner is a brave act on LT, let alone over here in Blogger World. You make me proud, you really do.

Prof. Worm said...

LW3: Medals have been given for lesser deeds, so I'll take one.

And damned if you don't sound exactly like my mentor.